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Here is the abstract for our upcoming Society for American Archaeology presentation in Vancouver. Written with Jennifer Chmilar, this project uses environmental data to understand human-environmental relationships in a new and highly socio-theoretical manner.

Abstract:

To at least some degree, all cultural groups must respond to and adapt within their surrounding environment, as was the case for the ancient Maya. The Maya area consists of various distinct ecological zones, from volcanic highlands through swampy bajos and across a dry karstic plain punctuated by wetlands, each providing distinct adaptation opportunities. Seasonal fluctuations provide further texture to the flow of each landscape. This paper explores and attempts to characterize the temporality of the ancient Maya wetland landscape of El Eden, Quintana Roo, Mexico. By temporality, we mean the unique temporal rhythms of the landscape and also social life that organized and guided the interconnected tasks vital to ancient Maya life. To do this, we use a historical ecological approach supplemented by ecological data and 3D simulations. Our theoretically driven approach allows us to reconstruct and characterize the unique seasonal rhythms found at El Eden and the corresponding tasks that uniquely developed in response to the seasonally fluctuating wetland landscape. By focusing on seasonality, temporality, and tasks, we demonstrate that life at ancient wetlands were organized in a unique manner contrasting but also complementing other modes of ecological adaptation seen in the Maya area.

While conducting my research, I also found that virtual reality environments could be powerful teaching tools. After creating an interactive application containing a virtual reality reconstruction of the Maya site of Cerro Maya (formerly known as Cerros), I began using it in an introductory anthropology class that I taught at the University of Florida (UF). I required students to explore the virtual reality reconstruction of Cerro Maya while characterizing the social capacities of the ancient architecture in terms of the ritual practices that were important to the rise of social hierarchy at Cerro Maya. In surveys of the class responses, I found that this virtual reality application increased student interest, engagement, comprehension, and retention of core concepts.

By providing an interactive and immersive learning space, students were able to generate their own ideas and theories regarding the use of social space while actively retaining the complex anthropological concepts that they were required to learn.

After gaining recognition from several local press enterprises for using virtual reality with my students in 2014 (click here for more info), I was chosen to develop and teach a new online and in-class multidisciplinary course called Digital Anthropology. The first of their kind at UF, these cross-cutting four-field anthropology courses explore new digital methodologies for anthropology and humanities research while investigating new digital forms of culture.

Click above for video trailer of Digital Anthropology Class

The class incorporates my fast-paced video productions and Microsoft hyper-media format “Sway” into lessons. This course taught students to critically explore and understand digital culture and digital tools for humanities research. Among a variety of assignments, students learned how to model and analyze archaeological and ethnographic sites using video game engine technology and virtual reality hardware. Class activities required the students to learn how to become anthropologists by using ethnographic and social network analysis techniques to explore and analyze virtual online spaces.

Video module 5

Furthermore, students were asked to critically analyze their roles in massively multiplayer online role playing games and social networks using social network analysis tools. I would enjoy teaching a similar class at Illinois Wesleyan University while supporting faculty that desire to incorporate similar interactive digital teaching strategies into their classroom.

In my introductory anthropology class, I created an interactive learning project where students had to explore a virtual reality reconstruction of the ancient Maya site of Cerros (video below).

This video was created the Florida Museum of Natural History's exhibit of Cerros Maya City by the Sea: Daily Life and Ritual 2012. The architecture was precisely modeled from original site maps and excavation data.

Students were asked to characterize the social capacities of the architecture in terms of the ritual practice that were important to the rise of social hierarchy at Cerro Maya (Cerros). In surveys I found that this virtual reality application increased student interest, engagement, comprehension, and retention of core concepts. By providing an interactive and immersive learning space, students were able generate their own ideas and theories while actively retaining the complex anthropological concepts that they were required to learn.

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